MADRID SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15: Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his teammate Alvaro Arbeloa (Top) during the UEFA Champions League group G match between Real Madrid and Ajax at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15 2010 in Madrid Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

La Liga Monday, Round 17: Real Madrid Enter Life Without Gonzalo Higuain, Can Karim Benzema Step Up?

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Getafe Vs Real Madrid: Ten Man Real Madrid Hang On To Secure Victory Over Getafe

It was by no means pretty from Real Madrid, but it was certainly effective as they showed their fighting qualities once more to edge out Getafe in a derby day thriller. In a match played at a frenetic pace, both teams looked to attack at every opportunity as we were treated to five goals in the Coliseum. Cristiano Ronaldo put Real Madrid ahead early doors from the spot after Di Maria had been fouled, and a supreme second from Mesut Ozil looked to have put Real Madrid on course for three points after only 20 minutes.

But Dani Parejo brought Getafe right back into the match on the half hour, dancing his way past Lass Diarra and Sergio Ramos, before curling a fantastic shot just insideIker Casillas’ right-hand post. Both teams then threw everything forward in a fesity encounter that saw referee Undiano Mallenco dish out ten yellow cards, including one for Getafe manager Michel.

The second half followed a similar pattern as the first, as both side committed men forward, although it was a dreadful error from Jordi Codina that ultimately put pay to his sides hopes. An awful clearance fell straight to Ozil, and with the German immediately playing in Karim Benzema, the Frenchman fed Cristiano Ronaldo, who rarely fails to find the back of the net from ten yards out.

With that goal, Mourinhos men looked on course for a vital win in their pursuit of Barcelona, but after Kaká had made his return from injury, Alvaro Arbeloa saw his second yellow card after handling Manés cross. Minutes later Juan Albin struck to put Getafe within one goal of an unlikely draw, and although they ploughed men forward in search of a third, Real Madrids ten men held out resolutely to claim the win. A superb game of football and a fitting end to the first matchday of 2011.


Getafe Vs Real Madrid: Albin Goal Sets Up Grandstand Finale

Real Madrid just don’t make it easy for themselves do they? Just when it looked like the three points were safe, Alvaro Arbeloa gets himself sent off for a second yellow card, and minutes later substitute Juan Albin slots in from inside the box to set up a frantic finale to what has been a pulsating match. Arbeloa can count himself unfortunate after receiving two soft yellows, the second for handball, while uncertainty at the back for Real Madrid allowed Albin to take advantage of a loose ball in the area to put Getafe back to within a goal.

Kaka made his long-awaited return from injury to replace Karim Benzema, who had consolidated his assist for Ronaldos second goal, with a sweet strike which struck the post. Both Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil had wasted gilt-edged chances to put Real Madrid out of sight, but with five minutes remaining in this match, they will be hanging on as Getafe throw everyone forward in search of an equaliser.


Getafe Vs Real Madrid: Cristianos Second Restores Madrids Two Goal Advantage

Real Madrid have restored their two goal advantage after a shocking mistake at the back by Getafe. Not for the first time, Getafe diced with death in defence and this time it has proved costly. A dreadful clearance from keeper Jordi Codina fell straight to Mesut Ozil who fed the ball first time to Karim Benzema. The French striker brought the ball forward before playing a slide-rule pass to Cristiano Ronaldo who made no mistake from inside the area, side-footing past the keeper on the fall.

The error has been incredibly harsh on Getafe, who had started the half the brighter of the two teams, but you simply cannot afford to commit schoolboy errors against players of the calibre of Ozil and Ronaldo. The home side really need a quick goal to haul themselves back in it, although with Miku and Manu Del Moral anonymous upfront, they may well need another moment of magic from Dani Parejo. Kaka remains on the bench, although I expect the Brazilian to make a late entrance if the scores remain as they are.


Karim Benzema Tracker: Alas! He's Done Something Useful!

It took 57 minutes, but Karim Benzema has finally arrived for Real Madrid, assisting Cristiano Ronaldo on a goal that put Los Merengues up 3-1 on Getafe. It wasn't the world's best creative effort - Jordi Codina gifted Real the goal - but it was an assist nonetheless for the Frenchman.

He was so absent in the beginning of the match that one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Stannard, sent out this tweet. It was harsh, but hardly inaccurate. Benzema did next to nothing to start the match and his assist to Ronaldo was his first truly positive contribution to the match.

The assist might be enough to convince Jose Mourinho and Florentino Perez to give him another chance before making a panic buy, but it's still obvious that this team would be better with a different player up top. It's quite possible that all Benzema needs is a run of games in the starting lineup to regain his form, but I am still very skeptical.

Verdict after 60 minutes: Okay, he kind of sucks, but that assist bought him a second chance.


Getafe Vs Real Madrid: Madrid Enter The Break 2-1 To The Good

In what has been a scintillating 45 minutes of football, Real Madrid enter the half-time break, 2-1 up after goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil had put them two goals infront, only for Dani Parejo to pull a goal back for Getafe on 28 minutes. Neither team has held back in what has been an enthralling half of end-to-end football, with Madrids extra helping of quality in attack the main difference between the two sides.

For Real Madrid, Angel Di Maria has been outstanding down the right, beating left-back Mané on numerous occasions, while Cristiano has been an ever-present threat across the attacking line. As Kevin has mentioned, Karim Benzema has been disappointing at best, although he did almost create a goal for Cristiano in the dying seconds of the half, but his cutback just beat the run of the Portuguese flyer with the goal gaping. For Getafe, Derek Boateng has looked assured in the heart of midfield, although a Dani Parejo flash of brilliance apart, they have created little.

That said, Getafe have more than played their part in a thoroughly entertaining game of football, and they look to have more than enough to trouble Real Madrids makeshift defence in the second half. All eyes will be on the Real Madrid bench as Kaka looks to make his return from over 200 days out through injury. Is this the right sort of match to bring back the Brazilian? Only Mourinho will know.


Benzema Tracker: Dreaming Of Dzeko

Real Madrid are up 2-1 , but that doesn't mean we've seen an impressive contribution from Karim Benzema. The first goal, a penalty kick, was garbage. The second goal was brilliant, but it was all about the other attacking players. He's given the ball away a few times and after 35 minutes, has completely failed to do anything positive. He's given the ball away a few times already, his most recent giveaway leading to Dani Parejo's goal to pull Getafe back within one goal.

His complete lack of touch and vision might have Madridistas dreaming of Edin Dzeko, the 6'3" Bosnian number nine with a silky smooth first touch for a man of his size. It's unlikely that he would have given the ball away, which again, lead to Parejo's goal.

Madrid would probably have a hell of a lot more possession at this point with him in the side, since he's adept at holding up the ball. And receiving teammates' passes without the ball ending up 10 yards from his body.

Anyway, the verdict after 35 minutes? Karim Benzema is not the answer. And if he is, you're asking the wrong question.


Getafe Vs Real Madrid: Madrid Race Into Two-Goal Lead But Parejo Pulls One Back For Getafe

Real Madrid have put themselves firmly in the driving seat with a superb second goal, scored by Mesut Ozil. Angel Di Maria created the goal with an inch-perfect pass which dissected the Getafe defence. Ozil took the ball expertly into his stride before rounding Codina and slotting in from a tight angle. A clinical strike as Real Madrid threaten to run away with the match before half-time.

Getafe have yet to test Real Madrids unusual centre-back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Raul Albiol and I can’t remember Iker Casillas having a save to make in this opening half hour. Michel needs to find a way of getting players like Parejo, Manu and Pedro Rios on the ball.

And just as I type that, Dani Parejo glides his way through the Madrid defence and curls a delicious shot just inside Casillas’ near post to put Getafe right back in it. 2-1 and this match has all the makings of a thriller in the Coliseum!


Getafe Vs Real Madrid: Cristiano Puts Madrid One Up From The Spot

It’s been a scrappy opening to this Madrid derby, but Jose Mourinho will be pleased with his teams start to the match after Cristiano Ronaldo put his side one up from the spot after ten minutes. Angel Di Maria was adjudged to have been fouled by Mané in the area, although my first impression was that it was incredibly harsh on the defender. Di Maria appeared to go down far too easily, but replays showed that Mané tugged the winger back just before, so it’s hard to argue with the refs decision.

Cristiano dispatched the penalty with customary aplomb, giving Codina no chance with a bullet fired into the bottom-left corner of the goal. Neither side has really got into their rhythm, although Real Madrid look dangerous every time they launch an attack, with Cristiano always menacing cutting in from the right-hand side. Much has been made of the need for Karim Benzema to step up to the plate in Higuains absence, but as yet little has been seen of the Frenchman.


Villareal Vs. Almeria: Jozy Altidore Makes Second Straight La Liga Apperance

Jozy Altidore has not exactly enjoyed a banner season at Villareal. He’s scored just two goals, neither of which came in La Liga play, and has played sparingly. While still not finding the back of the net, at least he’s starting to play more.

The American striker made his second straight La Liga appearance, entering as a 83rd minute substitute for Giuseppe Rossi. He didn’t get any shots off, but was active in his limited time. That was Altidore’s third La Liga apperance, but it’s the third straight match he’s played for Villareal. He played seven minutes for Villareal in their last La Liga match and played 13 minutes in their most recent Europa League match.

Prior to this recent run of playing time, Altidore had played in just one of Villareal’s first 15 La Liga matches. His playing time had been mostly reserved for Copa Del Rey and Europa League matches.

Even if Altidore isn’t playing much, he is at least doing it on a team that is doing well. Villareal currently sits third in La Liga after their 2-0 victory over Almeria on Monday.


Atletico Madrid Vs. Racing Santander: 0-0 Full Time, Atleti Slips Up In Race For Fourth

It appeared that Atletico Madrid were back in the track towards securing a top four spot before they went into the winter break, but their 0-0 draw at the Vicente Calderon against Racing Santander could easily be categorized as a slip up and two very important points dropped. They created a great flurry of activity at the end, challenging the Racing goal in some moments of desperation, but nothing came of it and they walked away with only one point.

According to Opta Sports, Atletico Madrid have won only one of their last nine La Liga matches when Diego Forlan did not play. That was the case tonight, as he was stuck watching in the stands along with new signing Elias, who has not been with the club long enough to be expected to contribute. As a result of their absence, the midfield and attack of Atletico Madrid was lackluster, and they created very little.

They almost scored a garbage time winner in the 93rd minute when Diego Costa rose to meet a Fran Merida cross with his head, directing it towards the goal, but a fantastic save by Toño preserved Racing Santander's deserved point.

Atletico Madrid are now four points behind Valencia for fourth place and will fall out of European places entirely if Getafe is able to pull an upset of Real Madrid today. Even if Getafe loses that match, they will still only be one point behind Atletico.


Getafe Vs. Real Madrid: Pre-Match Primer And Karim Benzema Tracker

Some interesting tactical battles might emerge as the match between Getafe and Real Madrid goes on, but to start, it appears that both teams will be lining up in fairly identical 4-2-3-1 formations. Of course, the presence of a player like Cristiano Ronaldo means Getafe will never have a truly "identical" setup, but they have at least made an effort to match Los Merengues, trotting out their usual setup.

Getafe's formation could conceivably be a 4-4-2, as Miku has played as a forward before and is listed as a forward on numerous websites, but I think it's much more likely that Getafe will stick with their regular setup and deploy him out on the wing. However, Gavilan and Rios are both wide players more often than not, so who knows? It could be a 4-4-2 diamond setup with Boateng at the base and Parejo at the tip. For now, though, I'm guessing that we'll see Gavilan in the middle.

For Real Madrid, Karim Benzema predictably starts up top, but in one semi-surprising selection, Lassana Diarra will be playing ahead of Sami Khedira. It's unclear if this is a tactical, fitness, or form selection.

Real Madrid lineup (4-2-3-1): Casillas ; Marcelo, Albiol, Ramos, Arbeloa ; Alonso, Diarra ; Di Maria, Özil, Ronaldo ; Benzema

Getafe lineup (4-2-3-1): Codina ; Mane, Lopez, Torres, Diaz ; Boateng, Gavilan ; Rios, Parejo, Miku ; Manu

During the match, our resident La Liga expert Steve Abrams will be providing commentary on match action similar to what he did with the Barcelona match yesterday. At the same time, my focus will be a little more specific. I'll be following Karim Benzema's performance and whether or not Jose Mourinho makes any kind of significant tactical adjustments to account for the loss of Gonzalo Higuain.

The match starts at 4 pm ET, keep it here kids.


Atletico Madrid Vs. Racing Santander: Atletico Madrid Will Not Be Covered Again Until Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero, And Elias All Play

After 75 minutes, I'm on the verge of gauging my eyes out and sitting in my house, praying that Jozy Altidore enters the match for Villarreal so I'll have an excuse to watch something other than this dire Atletico Madrid vs. Racing Santander match. It's been really poor, to say the least, with neither team showing any significant quality in the final third.

If you're a regular follower of coverage of La Liga on this website, you've probably been able to figure out that I am not very fond of the way that Atletico Madrid have played football so far this season. Their lack of a presence in the center of midfield is shocking and there have been very few games where Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero have been able to play together.

So, I am making a pledge. Until all three of Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, and Elias are in a starting lineup together, I will not be covering an Atletico Madrid match unless it is being contested against a big team that I thoroughly enjoy watching and that a lot of people thoroughly enjoy reading about. They're just not worth my time or yours. Hopefully they aren't able to pull out a garbage stoppage time winner like Valencia have gotten so good at doing, because they really don't deserve it based on this performance, or most of their performances this season, for that matter.


Atletico Madrid Vs. Racing Santander: 0-0 Halftime, Atleti Missing Diego Forlan, Finishing Touch

Thanks partially to the injury to Tiago, but probably much more to the absence of Uruguayan international and 2010 World Cup star Diego Forlan, it's been a rather uneventful first half between Atletico Madrid and Racing Santander. Sergio Aguero has not made his regular impact so far and his teammates have not done an excellent job of getting him the ball in dangerous positions. Still, Aguero is the superstar on the team, and his performance has not been up to his regular standard so far.

As a team, Atleti have seriously lacked a killer instinct. Their final balls and finishing have been poor, though most of their passing and defending have been solid. They are, for once, competent in possession, but the only place that they have been able to create legitimate scoring chances has been on the counter attack. They have forced Toño into a couple of decent saves, but to be honest, much more was expected of them against Racing.

The visitors have done a competent enough job defending, but it seems that they are content to do just that with little interest in attacking. They may have come here looking to play for a 0-0 draw all along, and so far, they have been successful in their endeavor.

Elsewhere in La Liga, Mallorca have a 2-0 lead on Hercules thanks to late first half goals from Emilio Nsue and Victor Casadesus, Real Sociedad and Real Zaragoza are tied 1-1 with the goals coming from Florent Sinama-Pognolle and Xabi Prieto, and Villarreal lead 1-0 over Almeria thanks to a Jose Manuel Catala goal. Still no sign of Jozy Altidore there, we'll let you know if he enters the game.


Atletico Madrid Vs. Racing Santander: Tiago Already Injured, Valero Replaces Him

It hasn't taken long for an injury to have a serious effect on this match. Atletico Madrid midfielder Tiago was stretchered off of the pitch after just a few minutes of their match against Racing Santander, but Quique Sanchez Flores waited a while and weighed his options before making a change. Eventually, when he made a decision on who he was bringing on and that player was sufficiently warmed up, Flores made a change.

Valera, who is usually a right back, came on in Tiago's place due to Atleti's lack of healthy wingers. As a result, the team is inherently looking a little more defensive, but both Valera and Ujfalusi have shown a willingness to get forward down the right side.

Atletico Madrid have been the better side early, with Racing Santander showing very little going forward. However, neither team has created a truly clear cut chance after 27 minutes at the Vicente Calderon.


Atletico Madrid Vs. Racing Santander: Pre-Match Primer

Neither Diego Forlan or Elias has been able to suit up for Atletico Madrid, meaning their lineup isn't quite as lethal and exciting as it could possibly be. They still field a very strong team, though, and will be favorites against Racing Santander. Atleti won their last two matches going into the winter break and sit in sixth place, well within reach of a UEFA Champions League position. Racing Santander are attempting to avoid relegation and have struggled to replace the creative output of Sergio Canales, who departed for Real Madrid this summer. The teams will line up in 4-4-2 formations that are essentially matching, with both teams often creating their best scoring chances on the counter attack. However, expect Racing to be the more defensive of the two sides.

Atletico Madrid lineup (4-4-2): De Gea ; Kasmirski, Godin, Perea, Ujfalusi ; Tiago, Garcia, Assuncao, Merida ; Aguero, Costa

Racing Santander lineup (4-4-2): Toño ; Pinillos, Torrejon, Domingo, Henrique ; Bakircioglu, Diop, Colsa, Gonzalez ; Munitis, Rosenberg

Also of note, in another La Liga match, United States international Jozy Altidore starts on the bench for Villarreal, who are hosting Almeria. There was some speculation that Altidore might start due to an injury to in-form Brazilian international Nilmar, but it was not to be. If Altidore enters the match, we'll be sure to keep you updated. Both that match and this one, between Atletico Madrid and Racing Santander, kick off at 2 pm ET.


January Transfer Goodness: Imagining Someone In Karim Benzema's Place At Real Madrid

January transfer window rumors are always a blast, and a very high percentage of them seem to center around Real Madrid, every single year. This year, because Gonzalo Higuain is out for six months with an injury and Karim Benzema has been an abject disappointment, those rumors are centered around strikers. Of course, Benzema could go drop bombs against Getafe tonight and squash the rumors of a new, high priced signing arriving at the Santiago Bernabeu, but it's way more fun to speculate about what might happen if Benzema is atrocious tonight and Getafe takes all three points. So, without any further ado, here are some guys who you should imagine playing in place of Karim Benzema tonight.

Edin Dzeko

The Wolfsburg superstar is currently linked with a move to Manchester City and has been open with his desire to move to Juventus, but you can't tell me Real are incapable of swooping in and sealing Dzeko's signature. Florentino Perez might be willing to match Manchester City's £27m bid, and Dzeko would have a hard time saying no to Los Merengues. He would be sick in Real Madrid's setup. At least 20 goals a year, take it to the bank.

Fernando Llorente

Athletic Bilbao's towering striker seems to be a fixture in the Spain setup for competitive matches these days, and he's been getting it done in the Basque Country for years. Though his team was disappointing in their loss, as a whole yesterday, Llorente was probably the best player on the pitch, as he often is. He's not quite as flashy as Dzeko, but he's also not quite as expensive, most likely, and he's already familiar with La Liga.

Luis Suarez

He's hardly the towering No. 9 that a lot of the guys on this list are, but then again, neither is Gonzalo Higuain. Suarez is much more of a trickster than the other possibilities, and he can fill in on the wings as needed, which gives him some added value. If Higuain comes back and Angel di Maria is either injured or in poor form, there will still be a place for Suarez.

Edinson Cavani

Cavani is almost certainly the most inconsistent of the players on this list, but he's only 23 years old and his flashes of brilliance are blindingly bright. The number tossed around for obtaining his services is usually around £20m, which seems reasonable to me. He might do more to set up his teammates than the other guys on this list.

Diego Milito

Mourinho has a history with him and he's not producing at Inter like he did last season. Since he's fallen out of favor and now 31 years old, the Argentine might be available for a reasonable price. He hasn't shown his great finishing skills at all this season, but this could have something to do with Eto'o taking his normal place. As the cheapest option on this list, Milito wouldn't be a bad pickup.

Andy Carroll

Admit it. You laughed.

Abby Wambach

I actually think this would work.


La Liga Monday, Round 17: Real Madrid Enter Life Without Gonzalo Higuain, Can Karim Benzema Step Up?

If Real Madrid are going to chase down Barcelona for the La Liga title, they are going to have to do it without their best striker, Gonzalo Higuain. His season appears to be over due to an injury that should put him out of action for around six months. As a result, Karim Benzema should start tonight.

A fixture of the French national team and the title winning sides of Olympique Lyon, Benzema's move to Los Merengues was a high profile one. He was expected to be the great out and out striker Real were lacking. A true No. 9. The new Ronaldo. Instead, his finishing and tactical awareness have seemed suspect at best in most of his time on the pitch, despite his occasional flashes of brilliance.

Benzema's shortcomings and Higuain's injury have fans speculating about players Jose Mourinho might pursue in the January transfer window. Despite looming speculation that Manchester City are on the verge of signing Edin Dzeko and that Juventus are his true first choice, the Madridistas would probably be happy to see the Bosnian in white. Fernando Llorente of Athletic Bilbao and Luis Suarez of Ajax are two other players whose names have been tossed around quite a bit. Later today, before the matches, we'll take a look at some possible January transfer targets for Madrid in the striker position.

However, there are games to be played today! It's not all about wild speculation, there's going to be some real football going on. Real have to go away to Getafe, who have held their own in the top half of La Liga so far this season. Between their complete forward Manu, their playmaker Daniel Parejo, their tough holding midfielder Derek Boateng, and a solid defense, Getafe provide some serious competition to the established big boys in Spain. Madrid will be favored, but it shouldn't be a walkover, especially without Higuain.

That game takes place at 4 pm ET, but there are a flurry of 2 pm kickoffs as well. The one that will be covered here is the match between Atletico Madrid and Racing Santander. Atleti currently sit in sixth place and should remain a contender for a top four position very deep into the season. Everyone knows about Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan, but those two haven't got much help from the center of their midfield at this point. Their team has already done some January transfer business to address this problem, picking up Elias from Corinthians. It will be interesting to see how soon he is introduced into the team and how he adjusts to La Liga.

We'll be here with live coverage starting just before the 2 pm ET kickoffs, but check back before that for some fun with transfer madness. We'll be taking a deeper look at Jose Mourinho's transfer market options in the striking department.

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